The Big Five: America’s Make or Break Challenges
Published on: May 5, 2013
show comments
  • When the left wing of the Democrat party remembers that governing doesn’t mean trashing the GOP, they will understand that sometimes they will have to accept things they personally don’t like in order to get things done. But Nancy Pelosi and the left coast liberal billionaires that back her would rather kill this country than ever give an inch to a conservative. Sad, really.

    • That is truly the pot calling the kettle black.

      • Tom

        That does not mean that the kettle isn’t dirty.

  • Eleven million undocumented immigrants may not be a such big deal in the grand scheme of things but immigration in general certainly is, both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of human biodiversity and its relationship culture. Here is good discussion in the Chechen bomber case:

  • And if the distractions are quite deliberate, since addressing the major problems requires decisions and consequences our elites don’t want to address? They’re doing Great, never better for the Political Class and Wall Street bubbles along on fiat money. These are the issues for our Rulers.

    I think we’ll see the Overton Windows on non-Core issues increase in frequency and decrease in their effects.

    You may expect a continuing parade of squirrels living and dead, anything to distract.

  • I think this is the first truly authentic political essay I’ve ever read. Too often pundits try and manipulate politics to their advantage, and frame issues in a way they think will let them win.

    Thus, inequality has steadily shrunk from a problem of the upper middle class to the top 5% to the top 1% to, among some people, the top 0.1%. All of this despite the rather obvious things the upper middle class are doing to increase inequality (mandating that Americans must attend college while heavily discouraging kids from seeking a career in the trades is perhaps the biggest offense, but imposing an immigration policy that restricts skilled workers while flooding the economy with unskilled workers must be a close second).

  • Scott Morgan

    I am optimistic about our chances. These general issues are very real but they are neither new nor unique to our time. Previous generations have faced seemingly insurmountable issues. Yet despite their typical human bungling; we and our republic still survive and thrive.

    Perhaps I am just another Pollyanna but the human spirit is remarkably hard to extinguish. Whether it God’s grace or just our species’ gift to wobble but not fall down, we are survivors.

    • wgoetsch

      I largely agree with Mr Morgan. Our problems today are fewer than in the ‘good old days’ (I’m 79), and we have more resources to deal with them.

      Most of the ‘numbers’ problems would vaporize if we returned to more federalism–more state power, less fed power. The balance now is heavily weighted toward the feds.
      I wish Mr Mead would sometime address the reasons for the underlying and relentless pressure toward centralization, and whether, and how we could (or should) return more power to the states.

  • Jim Luebke

    “There is no going back to the old days. The genie is out of the bottle, and Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall.”

    Why does the English language contain the word “Renaissance”, then?

    The pendulum swings one way, then swings back the other. The “This time it’s different” fallacy can apply to pessimism as easily as optimism.

  • NoNewt

    These make sense to me. Overall, it seems the best thing we can do is move toward an immigration system that is based entirely on skills and merit. This will (1) help create jobs (i.e., skilled computer-programmer immigrants able to create the 50% of Silicon Valley jobs created by immigrants that many cite when inexplicably arguing for amnesty for illegal immigrants will help be able to grow the economy and start businesses in ways that capital- and skills-lacking dishwashers will not); (2) relieve the pressure on services like education by adding labor supply (by bringing in new professors or doctors; (3) keep a relatively acceptable proportion of high-earning workers to support the Social Security / Medicare safety nets for retirees; (4) ensure that the people entering the country are easily assimilable and able to enter the middle class (or upper-middle class) and “believers” in traditional bourgeois ethics (as the vast majority of skilled immigrants, whether they’re from India, Korea, Germany or Brazil tend to be in my experience); (5) help restore and reinforce virtue (thank you for re-introducing this highly important concept, which Aristotle and Machiavelli saw as paramount but Harry Reid seems to think is below him) by ensuring our population increases on account of virtuous, fundamentally law-abiding people who don’t undermine the fabric of the Rule of Law or cause Americans to feel the government is too corrupt or cynical to be “looking out for us” and enforce the law uniformly among all groups of people and all crimes, regardless of race, ethnicity, etc.

    On the contrary, continuing to rely on low-skilled immigrants (whether legal or not), chain migration of their relatives, and continuous amnesty after amnesty every 20 years exacerbates each and every one of these problems: (1) rather than create jobs, it imports a new class of low-skilled/under-educated individuals competing with our own low-skilled citizens for a limited pool of jobs and unlikely to start a business due to reasons of capital, skill, know-how, etc.; (2) rather than add doctors and professors, it adds people who desperately need their services, worsening the supply-demand balance in increasingly expensive services; (3) rather than add high-paying workers who are net contributors funding our entitlement programs, it creates yet another class of people taking money, on balance, OUT of the system by qualifying to receive entitlements rather than pay into them; (4) it creates a separate, Lesotho-like “America within America” of a poorly assimilating underclass that, per the recent Gallup and Pew polls, want to see MORE income redistribution and more government entitlement programs, pressuring taxpayers who feel we are giving more and more of our money to support people who aren’t even of our society (it’s one thing if I pay 40% of my income to support my parents and their generation; it’s another if I’m paying 40% of my income to support Latin America’s poor); (5) it results in huge erosion of a fundamental American principle – the Rule of Law, and breeds a cynicism in Americans that the law only applies to you if you’re not of a special ethnic group whose votes for some reason are seen as “sought after.”

    I agree with the conclusion that the last two points are extremely important – I feel this acutely and personally. I do feel like I cannot relate in any way, shape or form to a huge segment of the population: illegal, underskilled workers with minimal ability to assimilate. When I lived in New York City, it seemed any time I went to a restaurant, there were exclusively illegal workers employed behind the counter/kitchen – this despite the huge numbers of underemployed Americans in and out of NYC, some of whom are perhaps being lazy but others of whom are simply passed over by a labor system that exclusively considers and employs illegal immigrants offered up by who-knows-what sort of Mafia channels. I now live abroad because my (foreign, legal) spouse was unable to receive a US work visa – as a US citizen, I made the move overseas for 2 years while he applies for a green card, and I cannot in any way, shape or form understand why those who came illegally cannot also go to their home countries and apply legally if I as a native-born American am forced to do this. I feel like my rights mean less than non-existent “rights” to illegally enter the country (and be rewarded with citizenship for doing so!) by people whose ethnicity is currently highly privileged by politicians. Since these individuals are typically low-skilled and on balance result in lower education and income levels, it’s unclear why they deserve these special privileges, what national interest this serves.

    Effectively, I feel that illegal immigration – and particularly the special privileges it seems to result in – is fundamentally undermining Americans’ connection to their country and our sense of the country as a fair, equitable place. Simultaneously, it is resulting in cultural and income divides that create huge gulfs between Americans and the people who live among us, serve our food, etc. In short, it makes me feel like a stranger in my own country – which I’m not even able to live in, because my spouse is a skilled, educated (fluent English-speaking) immigrant who appears not to be of a “sought-after” demographic and who therefore is not exactly encouraged by the authorities to stay in the US and work illegally.

    If we get immigration right – and that means no more amnesties, restoring the rule of law, and a full move toward skills-based, non-chain immigration (which the Gang of 8 does not do) – I think we get the “Big Five” right. Get it wrong, and we get all of the “Big Five” wrong.

    • BigInMemphis

      Immigration is a second order issue in the short term.

  • Anthony

    “A more complex and densely populated country needs effective and responsive governance at a reasonable price…. But even if the old consensus is gone, the country still needs some thing to rally around.” (Social Trust)

    WRM, essay alludes to specific American historical condition involving three racial stocks (white, black, and red) that into 21st century underlay an even more diverse population/citizenry. I think your allusion to cohesiveness (social trust) turns on how America answers its bedeviling nationality question – you’re absolutely correct there’s no going back to our old consensus: White Anglo Saxon ideal and schematic value of that tradition as embedded in our national political, economic, and societal foundations.

    But, the American identity problem has never been examined beyond its creedal exertions; that is, the myth is illuminated at expense of realities (diverse nationalistic feelings, hypens, ethnic communities, isms, etc.) – the failures of the American melting-pot ideology.

    The essay argues for not only social advance but also for examining obstacles impeding said advance – your 5 challenges. As a result, it brings to mind: “For American society, the most crucial requirement at this point is a complete democratization of the national cultural ethos, This requires a thorough, democratic overhauling of the social functions of the entire American cultural apparatus. First of all, for whom and in whose interest does the cultural apparatus exist in America?” As Via Meadia explore these conditions/challenges going forward, a contribution towards the internal American commonweal is added to.

    • Marty Keller

      Well, if only “the cultural apparatus” existed in a Newtonian universe where all we had to do was overhaul the machinery and put in new parts! “Overhauling of the social functions” of American culture is always underway, sometimes furiously, sometimes placidly. The question is whether this overhauling stands on a solid foundation or is left to an unhelpful whimsy. Finally, no one, not even the “progressives” can command and control cultural change. Something much more powerful and sophisticated is at work here, and humans at best can work at doing no harm.

      • Anthony

        I don’t know if overhauling of American culture is always underway but I do know (Newtonian physics notwithstanding) the cultural mainstream of a nation affects its cohesion; this occurs specifically when a process of inter-group cultural fusion remains both incomplete and avoided. Also, cultural apparatus denotes system (mass cultural communications and its organized network of functions) that has grown up as integral part of capitalism. Thanks.

  • I fear/hope that a combination of #5 and ‘ignore the problem and it goes away’ will solve most parts of these problems.

    Cab-hailing apps will win their day in court because we are lazy, and cabbies will have an easier or non-existent job thanks to self-driving cars.

    The ‘theft of inheritances’ via social security and government debt is somewhat mitigated by children moving back in with their parents; indeed, we may see a rebirth of the multi-generational household (with added benefits of telecommuting, raising children, et al).

    For social coherence, I cannot see much good happening from the impersonality of the internet. Perhaps the best thing that could happen is a renaissance of coffeehouses and other public areas where people can meet and talk face-to-face and examine their own premises (as opposed to online, where the problem is agreed upon: the Other Side).

  • Douglas Levene

    I agree with much of Prof. Mead’s analysis but this point seems wrong to me: “A larger population and a more complex and interdependent technological base require more collective restraint on individual freedom in small things and large.” I would draw the opposite conclusion. The more collective restraints we impose, the less likely we are to achieve the kind of economic growth necessary to make everything else work. Try reading the Dodd-Frank Law and the tens of thousands of pages of proposed regulations under it to get a sense of the opportunity costs of increasing regulation, even for good purposes. Multiply that by the output created by all the other busy beavers in D.C. and the 50 state capitals and it’s a wonder anyone other than the lawyers gets up and goes to work in the morning.

  • Pete

    See Strauss’ and Howe’s “The Fourth Turning.”
    The deck is about to be reshuffled.

    Whether the new deal will be better or worse than the current one is anyone’s guess right now.

  • Cory Atkin

    What America needs is another Great Awakening. Though, this time we all need to
    convert to the one true religion: Freedom.

    Compared to other religions, freedom is much easier to understand.

    It has a single creed: All individuals have an inalienable right to life, liberty and property.

    It has only one commandment: Thou shalt not coerce your fellow man.

    Almost all the problems we face stem from our breaking the one great commandment and trying to get our way in this world through force or fraud.

    Whether we are trying to coerce others into worshipping our god, or joining our commune, or buying our product, or being part of our welfare state, it all boils down to the desire to compel others to do what we

    If we could all just agree to not coerce each other, what a wonderful world it would be.

    Here is a thought question for us on our path to enlightenment: What is the common denominator in the big problems we face in
    government mandated education, government mandated retirement, and government mandated health care?

    It’s as if we learned nothing from the Old World’s experiment in government mandated religion in days gone by.

    We need to be figuring out how to create free market education, free market retirement and free marked health care. That is the only
    thing that will allow us to solve these problems.

    Remember, free market means free from coercion not free from regulation or responsibility. We have as much to fear from coercive individuals and businesses as we have to fear from coercive government on the path to true religion.

    • Jim Luebke

      “It’s as if we learned nothing from the Old World’s experiment in government mandated religion in days gone by.”

      Therefore, let us mandate the religion of Freedom. How about Equality and Fraternity as well? Reason, too.

      Gotta love History. It’s very instructive.

      • Marty Keller

        Actually, Jim, freedom is the foundation of our American system, based on the equality that arises from individual sovereignty–and therefore not something anyone can “mandate.” Fraternity, of course, is a French import which became an element of the “progressive” faith. Reason arises as a feature of human evolution and not a system of belief like a religion.

        • Jim Luebke

          Sorry about the ambiguity there (it was meant to be lightly ironic). I’ve been reading a collection of writings from the Enlightenment, including one describing what the French Revolution came up with to replace Catholicism. It was comical in a very dark way.

          It also struck me that when the Revolutionary fervor burnt itself up, France never really recovered from its abandonment of religion.

          England — England in its prime, not the degraded confederation of today — modernized without forgetting God, at least until the last few generations.

          Reason just wasn’t (isn’t) enough. Even Reason with Freedom, when you don’t have the normative moral force of Christianity, isn’t enough. This is the lesson of England and America, and it’s one we would do well not to forget.

    • evans lyne

      We might benefit more by another Great Depression or some similarly catastrophic event to knock some common sense back into our society and enable us to see what is really important. Our wealth and well-being has distracted us and induced us to spend enormous sums on non-consequential matters. As Barry Goldwater said, “A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you are talking about a lot of money.”

      • BigInMemphis

        2008 should have done that. In many cases (my own) has had that effect. Sadly though we didn’t have the right government in place to make the lemonade.

    • mwneuro

      What has changed is the social contract that each of us Americans has with our fellow citizens.It has changed from: I must provide for myself to others must provide for me. The benevolent and culturally admirable thought that we must provide for those less financially fortunate has a destructive flip side – I am financially less fortunate so someone else should provide for me. This de-incentivizes personal improvement, which diminishes individual human capital and on a larger scale the aggregate loss of this collective human capital creates economic drag.That low skill manufacturing jobs have moved overseas adds to this peril. We need to paraphrase Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for yourself.”

  • Anthony

    “The last two areas where the country faces make or break challenges are different. They are cultural, social and spiritual….”

    A late professor of Columbia said that “whoever controls the cultural apparatus – whatever class, power group, faction or political combine – also controls the destiny of the United States and everything in it (cultural, social, and spiritual underpinnings).” Essay in its entirety implies that domestically the United States potentially has on its hand a dynamic configuration; that is, almost anything can happen (both probabilities and imponderables). Additionally, essay implies that the problems of America begin at home, with choices we are making as individuals…. The future belongs to America’s youth and Millennials show every sign of greater tolerance thereby assuaging one of America’s greatest challenges (the reality of diversity as intimated in essay) going forward – so, I remain optimistic for our country.

    “Our well-being depends fundamentally on our recognizing and nurturing our basic duality: as individuals, with distinctive tastes and aspirations, and as members of a society, with responsibilities to and values shared with others.”

    • Marty Keller

      Given the ravages of postmodernism and the effects on brain chemistry of television and the internet, I have a difficult time sharing your optimism about “America’s youth and Millennials.” The signs of “greater tolerance” you detect may be the product of a herd instinct rather than a grounded philosophy. The trouble with that is that herds can always be stampeded.

      • Anthony

        The herd instinct (irrationality and tendency to strongly resist whatever is objectively the case if it does not harmonize with one’s inclinations) is not restricted to Millennials – review some of WRM’s up or down Disqus votes. Seriously though, there is validity in phenomenon of incessant media enticements remolding our psyches (unconscious impulses). And unfortunately, unlike you, many today of all generations are unaware of the vastly increased powers of the digital technologies that advertisers, politicians, partisans, campaigns, etc. use to prey upon us. Millennials are no less immune but no more so either. In my opinion, they embody the future with all its complexity and transformation and will probably not be stampeded – they do have a longer time horizon than other adults in our society.

  • Jim Luebke

    So, has anyone written a book on the Death of Duty? Reading CS Lewis nowadays, it always strikes me how foreign the concept of “duty” sounds, to modern ears.

    This trend can’t be good for social cohesion.

    • If we have a shared duty, then surely we have a shared reward.

      • Tom

        However, that duty must be fulfilled for the reward to be received.

      • Jim Luebke

        For those who partake in the duty, obviously.

        The problem with our system is twofold: one, its incentives push people out of the “duty” category and into the “collect unearned reward” category, and two, the “reward” pool just keeps promising more and more, instead of being held proportional to what the dutiful members of society can provide.

  • “but the republic will not stand or fall based on lesbian prenups, gun background checks or green cards for those immigrants formerly known as illegal. ”

    In other words, Mead is too much of a coward to defend those issues from the liberal assault. Mead masks his cowardice with concern for issues that REALLY MATTER. But a civilization isn’t just about nickels and dimes. It’s about values and principles. But Mead, ever so slavish to the Jewish elites–that wanna take away our guns, push ‘gay marriage’, and flood this nation with non-whites to destroy white power–, has surrendered on those issues, and tries to justify his position by pontificating about how he’s too occupied with important matters to be sidetracked by ‘little’ issues.

    With conservatives like these…

    • Marty Keller


  • wigwag

    “Second, there’s the service crunch. The country’s demand for services like education and health care is growing rapidly, but our ability to produce the quantity and quality of services demanded can’t match the need. The systems we have to produce and deliver these services are increasingly dysfunctional. As a result, we are seeing ruinous inflation in costs like college and university tuition and the health care system generally.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Professor Mead couldn’t be more correct. Bringing efficiency and entrepreneurialism to the service sector, especially health care and education, is critical to America’s prospects in the next several decades. The idea that the same revolution that has increased efficiency and cut costs in manufacturing and high tech can’t disrupt the service sector is absurd. The problem is that while the government’s role in manufacturing and high tech is largely peripheral its role in health care and education is central (whether it should be or not).

    Health care is the perfet example. During the debate a few years back on Obamacare, both political parties were clueless. Republicans fought tooth and nail to maintain a central role for the 900 pound gorilla in the room; the bureaucratic and inefficient insurance companies. Democrats were equally dimwitted; they desperately wanted to substitute one stinking intermediatry (the government) for another (the insurance companies.)

    There is a better solution that can reduce costs and improve care. It’s called “direct primary care” or subscription-based medicine. Insurance works fine to allocate risk amongst large groups for occassional calamitous events; it was never intended for pay for predictable, non-catastrohic occurences. That’s why automobile insurance provides coverage for motor vehicle accidents, not oil changes and tire rotations.

    Insurance (provided by private companies or government) needs to be disintermediated out of primary health care. “Direct Primary Care” or “subscription based” primary care does exactly that. Consumers pay a monthly fee (often as low as $75 per month per patient) to a primary care doctor who offers vaccinations, routine chest xrays, antibiotics, hypertension medications, etc. For a fee less than most people pay for a monthly cable television or health club subscription, patients can be part of a primary care practice that provides all of their routine health needs. There are no co-pays, insurance forms or deductables.

    Doctors love this system because it reduces the patient roll that they need to make a great living from about 3,000 patients down to 1,000 patients or even less. Best of all, they can reduce clerical staff devoted to the insurance bureaucracy which dramatically reduces their overhead. With patient rolls reduced by at least two thirds, they can spend far more time with patients.
    Patients love the system because smaller patient rolls mean they can get a faster appointments, they get to spend more time with their physician, their physicians are happier and there is no miserable insurance company or government agency to deal with. Some physicians using this system even make house calls or go on specialist visits with their patients.
    Insurance is reserved for specialty care, medicines, hospital bills and surgery; the type of services insurance is ideally suited to provide. High deductable insurance policies which are relatively inexpensive provide this coverage. Medical savings accounts aren’t needed either; companies have the option of paying the subscription fee to belong to a primary practice for their employees as a tax free benefit. Companies love it because it brings their insurance costs down tremendously.
    A system like this could reduce medical costs in the United States by 30 percent or more while improving care. Google “direct primary care” to learn more. In New York, an origanization that Professor Mead wrote about several months ago, the “Freelancers Union,” has launced this model with great success.
    If our political parties weren’t so stupid and so focused on their narrow constituencies they would be endorsing instead of ignoring this type of innovation. Disintermediation of primary care is the type of new thinking that can bring dramatic improvement to America’s service sector.

    • Bring it on!

    • circleglider

      American is not experiencing a general “service crunch.”

      The one and only reason why education and healthcare services are currently dysfunctional is government intervention.

      • rheddles

        Add housing for the trifecta in our dysfunctional economy resulting form misguided government interference.

  • I understand the arguments, but I am not sure I agree.

    1 – Jobs: One issue is short term unemployment, which must be dealt with by macroeconomic policy. The other is a longer-term transition to an economy more oriented towards services such as education and health. Conflating them makes for confusion.

    2 – Education and health: as the demand for these services increases, they will account for a large share of the national product, of individual expenses, and of jobs. Why are they considered as “costs” while the car or bottled drinks industries are penciled in as “sales”, is a mystery to me.

    3 – Demographic transition is a fact but the urge to deal with this long term trend now now now while ignoring the present plague of unemployment weakens the argument.

    4 and 5 – I am neither American-born nor a Christian but I find that in my liberal corner of Massachusetts civic spirit and public virtue is alive and coherent, both among the citizens and our elected officials, young and old alike. Perhaps the rest of the country should be looking more closely to this liberal diverse Boston suburb for inspiration on old-fashioned republican and democratic values.

    • Marty Keller

      What comprises civic spirit and public virtue in Massachusetts?

      • Come to a town meeting, school committee here, and you would know. Or talk to the many elected representatives who are making an effort to spend our tax money wisely. How is it in your neck of the woods?

  • Great essay. These certainly are the big five. However, I have a bone to pick about Mead’s suggestion that increased complexity requires more collective restraints on liberty, large and small. Far too many such restraints exist because “progressive” ideology really does not recognize the importance of limits on them — at least since Woodrow Wilson toyed with the need to revamp the Constitution. And many more such restraints come into being for no better reason than that law makers and rule makers have the power to create them. As anyone who has worked inside politics and government at any level can testify, they do it just because they can. Laws and rules pile up over time because politicians need to grind out “reforms,” “initiatives” and “accomplishments” to crow about, and often, not much thought goes into them.

    Gradually but inexorably, crucial and once universally respected safeguards of liberty are eroded. A stunning example is the one identified by law professor and granddaddy of blogging Glenn Reynolds in a new law review article. Reynolds contends persuasively that while the right to due process may be enshrined in the Constitution, it doesn’t mean much when (as he puts it) “everything is a federal crime.” One’s fate now rests with prosecutors who pick and choose what offenses in a torrent of offenses to charge or with FBI and other federal agents who make similar choices. Effective due process today would have to address the process by which these powerful officials make these choices.

    Reynolds’ point might be driven home by noting that miscreants as diverse as Scooter Libby and the Boston bombers’ roommate have run afoul of the curious law that makes it a crime to lie to a federal agent. This is a handy charge wielded most often to turn screws on people. Some deserve it, of course, but does anyone believe for a second that the millions of people who have talked less than truthfully to federal agents have been or should be sent to prison for five years? And there are no Miranda warnings or oaths before you might commit this crime. If the first words out of your mouth when the FBI knocks on your door are not the truth, sorry, you’re a criminal.

    • Marty Keller

      Well, with his comment on “restraints on liberty,” I finally understand why WRM is still a Democrat.

  • USNK2

    Manufacturing matters. Just ask the millions of manufacturing employees in Canada and Mexico if they are glad their jobs were exported by the USA since the 1990’s in order to enrich the vulture capitalists of private equity. There was no other reason for the export of those jobs. Unit labor costs are a very small percentage of the retail price for most goods.
    It might be too late to re-introduce Civics and Geography into the USA curriculum, but their absence certainly makes it difficult to mold virtuous citizens.
    As for privacy? Too late – the government has become so intrusive I am now afraid to even write to an elected official to express my position on anything.

  • From the Heritage Foundation:

    The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer
    By Robert Rector and Jason Richwine, Ph.D.
    May 6, 2013

    … As noted, at the current time (before amnesty), the average unlawful immigrant household has a net deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of $14,387 per household.

    During the interim phase immediately after amnesty, tax payments would increase more than government benefits, and the average fiscal deficit for former unlawful immigrant households would fall to $11,455.

    At the end of the interim period, unlawful immigrants would become eligible for means-tested welfare and medical subsidies under Obamacare. Average benefits would rise to $43,900 per household; tax payments would remain around $16,000; the average fiscal deficit (benefits minus taxes) would be about $28,000 per household.

    Amnesty would also raise retirement costs by making unlawful immigrants eligible for Social Security and Medicare, resulting in a net fiscal deficit of around $22,700 per retired amnesty recipient per year.

    [Multiply these figures by the number of households and we are talking real money.]

  • Hominid

    We are doomed by numbers four and five. Nothing can be done about them and nothing else matters.

  • jefnjil

    The biggest problem America faces is an unwillingness of the bulk of our citizenery to limit their consumption to their production, broadly speaking. In the “good old days,” consumption was practically limited to production by several limitations. Among these were (i) very limited “social safety nets” (ie, no long-term unemployment, no generational welfare, etc.); (ii) very restrictive borrowing options (ie, real underwriting standards, limited access to credit cards, etc.) and (iii) strong cultural disiincentives to sloth and freeloading (ie, being known as a “deadbeat” was culturally debilitating). It is interesting that as our culture has “evolved” and rights have been granted without condition or balancing responsibilities, we all now “live better” individually, but collectively we are morally and fiscally bankrupt.

  • crazymook

    What future? Young adults are living out of their parents homes (out of necessity). The circle of life (and all that it entails) is on standby mode.

  • mccarty42

    Here is my big five:

    illegal immigration
    Deficit spending to willfully bloat government.

    Solve these, and much grief will go away.

  • stefanstackhouse

    Unfortunately, I see little reason for hope that those at the top in government and business are going to suddenly change and begin to effectively lead the country away from these five pitfalls. Therefore, if there is to be any hope at all, it will be up to the ordinary, everyday folks – “we, the people”.

    1. Jobs: We can start by cutting out the nonsense. School isn’t about having 12 years of fun (or 16+ years if one counts college); it is about the serious and difficult business of learning and preparing to become productive and responsible citizens. Students, teachers, and parents need to stop looking for leadership from above to fix this and need to just start buckling down and doing the right thing. Also, more people young and old need to understand that if they want to be employed, they might need to be prepared to try different things, including maybe employing themselves. Courses of study and majors should be selected with some thought about how useful the knowledge gained might be not just in their initial career choice but also in the future. Everyone needs to be in the habit of lifelong learning and continuously improving and updating their skill set as well.

    I would also point out that our lifestyle and personal consumption choices that result in a large negative current account trade balance do take their collective toll. More money left at home to circulate does ultimately help with employment here instead of in China or Bangladesh. We need to all strive to be more energy-efficient (especially with petroleum products) and to just buy less imported stuff.

    2. Education/Health Care/Government:

    Our education system could perform better if we understood that learning is ultimately up to the learner, and that students need to take personal responsibility to learn. Our health care system could perform better if we understood that health is ultimately up to the patient, and that patients need to take personal responsibility to live a healthy lifestyle. Our government systems could perform better if we understood that good government is only possible if we have good citizens, and that citizens need to take personal responsibility to live their lives in a way that takes care of themselves, their families, and their neighbors instead of causing problems – i.e., to be more self-governing.

    3. Old age income security and intergenerational equity:

    We need to understand that no society can afford to support more than a very limited proportion of its population in idleness. The idea that people of able bodies and sound minds should stop working and live lives of idleness for decades really needs to be reconsidered and refuted. Those of us who can keep working do need to keep working until we can’t, regardless of the social security benefits that might be available. Those of us who are in positions to hire people also need to reconsider our attitudes toward older workers, for the younger people can’t have it both ways: they can’t both be complaining about the oldsters mooching, and then also begrudge their holding down jobs.

    4. Coherence vs. diversity:

    Maybe the main thing that needs to happen is that we all need to recognize that we are in this boat together. The community that we live in is OUR community, and we all have mutual responsibilities to it and to each other. Ditto with our states, and with our nation. We don’t need to agree with each other about everything, but in spite of our disagreements we need to see each other as being fellow citizens and compatriots, and we need to be willing to work together for the common good.

    5. Virtue:

    We can have some disagreements here, too, but the bottom line is that especially if the people at the top are not going to exercise their power in a responsible manner, then it becomes even more important for those of us underneath to live lives of personal responsibility. While we can have a philosophical debate about what should or shouldn’t constitute “virtue”, if there is no personal responsibility then that discussion becomes totally abstract and pointless.

    We can do this. The emphasis is on the word “we” — and the word “do”.

  • evans lyne

    I believe this is a bit (or a lot) optimistic. As the article said, “the genie is already out of the bottle,” but in a way more profound and irreversible than intended. We have become soft, lazy, entitled, self-indulgent – and instead of punishing these qualities, our government encourages them. We are done, at the top of the slide and just about to go over the nose. The future lies elsewhere. Humanity is not dead, just our leadership position.

  • sosueme001

    1) Reduce Spending
    2) Cut Taxes
    3) Reduce Spending
    4) Cut Taxes
    5) Reduce Spending

  • I think the big five challlenges are, in this order:
    1. How to survive Obama and fix the destruction left after 8 years?
    2. How to survive Obama and fix the destruction left after 8 years?
    3. How to survive Obama and fix the destruction left after 8 years?
    4. How to survive Obama and fix the destruction left after 8 years?
    5. How to survive Obama and fix the destruction left after 8 years?

    • I wonder if comments like this don’t make WRM regret having reopened comments…..

  • Bernd_Harzog

    We also have to look our situation relative to state of other countries in the world.

    Western Europe is toast due to the burdens of an out of control welfare state combined with horrible demographics.

    China’s one child policy will prove to be its undoing as well as there are not enough young women to bear the children needed to sustain the country.

    The Middle East has right demographics and birth rates but is mired in a hopeless political mess soon to be exacerbated by the rest of the world becoming independent of Middle Eastern oil.

    So where are the bright ambitious hard working people of the world going to go? Here unless we manage to chase them off.

  • BigInMemphis

    Hmm… a bit academic but nice points none the less. However the mindset needed to fix ALL of these problems are the polar opposite of the absurd progressive dogma that has kept America in the ditch after the parasites of Wallstreet crashed our economy. Until Obama are expelled allowing reason and correct math to return to high government we should all just hunker down and survive. Great days are coming, just not for another 4 years.

  • Lafayette


  • Number 1 challenge: Ridding the US of liberalism.

  • besteda

    As an older 55+, unemployed American, all of this makes me very very sad. Given that reviving our economy is not even a priority in our political narrative, I’m not encouraged that we will do well in solving the top issues.

  • Jim Luebke

    Fourth point…

    What WRM is describing is nothing other than ASSIMILATION. Except, instead of saying that we should attempt to assimilate everyone in America to the most successful culture that this world has ever seen, we are to assimilate to something that seems to resemble Politically Correct “diversity” claptrap.

    This is [not wisdom.]

    Would we have a problem with “lack of coherence” if diversity were actually a strength??

    The problem with Western Civ was not its principles or its standards. The problem with Western Civ was its *exclusivity*. Racism is a deeply foolish idea, a lesson that should have been learned when Singapore fell. White people have no monopoly on success. What set us apart was not our “blood” but our cultural practices. ANY race that adopts these practices will flourish.

    Abandoning these cultural practices ourselves is so bad an idea it cannot be described in words G’ma Mead would tolerate. We should instead shout them from the rooftops, every university lectern, and on every blog site that presumes to propose a solution to America’s problems.

  • Actually, the five biggies are 1) impeaching Obama 2) dumping the Dept of Education, 3) castrating the EPA 4)dumping the Dept of Labor 5) dumping the IRS for a flat tax. Oh and Numbero Sixo is making sure Obama is impeached.

  • The Count

    An excellent article. About 15 years ago, Samuel Huntington proposed that the West formulate principles that encapsulate what we stand for politically. I question whether we in the United States could come up with a list of, say, five, principles that 80 or 90% of Americans would agree summarize just what it is that we stand for.

  • Maria Agosto

    You touch on this tangentially. Who controls the national discussion? These days, who dictates our lexicon, our news, our tastes in food, music, art? Who are the most influential people in the US? Corporations! Ours is a corporate culture. IMO, we need to get $ out of politics to remove their domination and to do that we must root out CORPORATE PERSONHOOD. Corporations have become the most influential “people” on the planet. As long as they enjoy the same constitutional rights as us, backed up by $ = speech, we are screwed.

  • Timothy Guillemette

    Had some truth to it up until “Economic inequality challenges the idea of a vast American middle class that shaped national consciousness during the Fordist era” Then I realized this article is right wing ideology assuming the level of inequality is acceptable.. then proceeds into the same ‘ol fear mongering propaganda.

    • If you get accused of being nothing but a propagandist for the other side by both ideological rightists and ideological leftists, then goddamnit Dr. Mead, you’re doing something right!!

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.